Throughout BioShock, you're essentially tooling yourself up in a progressively elaborate fashion - but in a way that suits the way you want to play it. In common with 2K's other big summer shooter, The Darkness, it's a game with a dual approach to how you go about taking down your enemies. On the right trigger you have various conventional firearms, like the standard pistol, shotgun, machine gun, grenade launcher and so on, but they're a mere taster for what you're capable of.
Meanwhile on the left trigger you have the ability to call up your growing arsenal of biologically enhanced 'Plasmid' attack powers, such as electric bolts, freeze rays, telekenisis, fireballs, or more cunning ones that 'enrage'your opponents against one another, or allow you to fight with Big Daddy on your side, and such like. But even well before you're blessed with all sorts of options, the degree of tactical choice dawns on you. Within just a few minutes of playing the game you'll suss out that you can conjure quick one-twos that leave enemies vulnerable to being stunned by electricity, followed by conventional weapons fire to finish them off. But with a bit more experimentation, you'll notice you can frequently turn the environment to your advantage, too. Wait for an enemy to stand in water, for example, and zapping them with electricity becomes a whole lot more effective. Likewise, that oily patch you might other wise have overlooked becomes a flaming wall of death when ignited at the right time. It's a game all about being observant and experimenting - and when it all comes together, it offers possibly the most thrilling combat in any FPS you've ever experienced. The scope to do things your way is simply mind boggling, in such a way it makes regular shooters look pathetically dated and uninspired by comparison. To say that 'no two players will experience the same game' is bang on the money.No wonder we've been disillusioned for so long about the genre - this game offers up everything we've been hankering after: intelligence, invention, inspiration.
But some of the most effective methods of attack at your disposal can often be the simplest. For instance, zapping security drones, cameras and sentries with electricity enables you to take them out of action for a crucial few seconds - at which point you can either choose to leg it out of harm's way, or get closer and press X to fire up a simple but addictive hacking 'minigame' so that their sole purpose is protecting you, rather than hindering you.
With a little bit of patience and persistence, you can methodically turn the tables on your enemies by turning the entire level a death trap- which has the effect of also making the whole game a lot more fun to invest time and energy into. Better still, these grid-based hacking minigames are an awful lot of fun in their own right, tasking you with linking together pipes from an initial start point to a pre-determined end point. At the beginning, all the tiles in the grid are flipped faced down, and it's up to you to quickly and methodically create a path by quickly flipping the tiles over and switching them until you find the pieces you're looking for. With the flow of energy creeping inexorably down the pipe, you're under the cosh to get it all linked up in time - so if you're not into tile puzzles, this method of security evasion might not be for you. If, however, you do enjoy them, it proves to not only act as a welcome break from the action, but a wonderfully useful means of making the environment work for you.
Inevitably certain sections of the shooter hardcore will grumble loudly about the lack of multiplayer. It's a fair point, but the most obvious riposte is are there not enough shooters out there that cater for this niche? Would Bioshock even benefit from the kind of tacked-on me-too multiplayer that most FPS titles sport like some sort of apologetic 'will this do' badge of dishonour? We'd much rather Irrational focused all of its energies on providing its audience with the very best that single player gaming has to offer than water down the experience by wasting time cobbling together yet another take on Deathmatch and CTF, thanks.
And with that out of the way, all that remains is to insist that anyone with a PC or a 360 goes out and buys this wonderful game on the 24th of August (or sooner if you happen to live near the street date-breaking US retailers), and send a message to the entire games industry that this is the kind of game that people want. BioShock is the ultimate rarity: not only does it live up to its lofty promise, but exceeds it through simple, old fashioned talent and imagination - not to mention verve, style,class, wit, and sheer bloody-minded ambition. It takes the tired, worn-out FPS genre by the scruff of the neck, reinvents and bend it out of shape in such a breathtaking fashion that it's going to take something very special to top this in the months and years ahead. For a game to be so outstanding in one department is one thing - to manage to tick every single box from graphics to audio to gameplay depth to atmosphere and innovation is pretty much unprecedented. Seriously - if you don't find something to love about BioShock, we'd recommend a trip to the nearest doctor to check if your heart's still beating.
10 / 10